It may be a home-grown offering, but Sacha Baron Cohen's flick about an Arabic despot is firmly embedded in the language of one culture … US comedy
Among the various, largely ethno-centric comments on Peter Bradshaw's review of The Dictator, one reader accuses our critic of bumping up his star rating of the flick based on nationality:
"So does this one get another bonus star for being British? Your unfortunate cultural nationalism is sticking out a bit again, Peter"
Leaving aside the absurdity of this, what @Drewv throws into relief is just how un-British The Dictator feels.
Not because it's about an Arabic despot, doesn't mention the UK and takes place either in North Africa or New York.
But because its whole sensibility shows how far, in comedy terms, the world has shifted away from such distinctions; even become oddly homogeonous.
If this flick has a nationality, you'd list it as HBO.
All Sacha Baron Cohen's credited co-writers come direct from Curb your Enthusiasm (which Baron Cohen cameoed in); not to mention his director.
JB Smoove (aka Leon) has a bit part; as does Garry Shandling, another big daddy in the HBO ancestry.
It's not just personelle, it's soul: the squeamish straight-talking, the gleeful envelope-pushing.
Actual gags, too.
The scene in which two characters go gooey-eyed while fishing around inside a heavily pregnant woman for a baby and a mislaid mobile phone takes inspiration from the Curb episode in which Richard Lewis's nurse stows stolen goodies (including a phone) in the same orifice.
The speech in which the dictator explains the virtues of his despotic regime to UN officials and then, inspired by the sight of the woman he's fallen for, explains that though democracy might be flawed, have hairy armpits and should lose five pounds, he loves it all the same, is a nod to a similar address made at an international peace summit at the end of Team America.
So: yes, Baron Cohen is British, as is co-star Ben Kingsley, and part of the deal his production company has struck with distributors Paramount includes a clause to try and foster home-grown talent.
And, if you so desired, you could take national pride or shame in his work on that basis.
But one of Baron Cohen's key achievements – despite the honed cultural specificity of his characters, despite the force field of charged religious debate that surrounds his work – has been in making his actual nationality almost irrelevant.
Sacha Baron CohenComedyCatherine Shoardguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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